Honeymoon planning is just as exciting as wedding planning, which is why we love sharing these posts with insider tips on romantic honeymoon destinations! Today Melissa Schollaert is back sharing her fave spots in Florence, Italy, so read on to find the best spots for sunset strolls, where to find heart-shaped pizza (!) and rooftop cocktails, plus we’ve got the scoop on the local artisanal goods and the best art museums. Did we mention the heart-shaped pizza?
(Piazza della Signoria where you can enter the famous Uffizi Gallery)
Church bells, history, Renaissance architecture and tuscan food. These are the things that remind me of one of the most romantic places in the world, and a popular destination for honeymooners. Florence, the capital of Tuscany is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance movement and is known for it’s beautiful architecture, Renaissance art, paintings and sculpture. The heart of Tuscany is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Florence is separated by the Arno River with the main historic city center to the north and Oltrarno neighborhood to the south. The entire city is surrounded by medieval walls that were built to protect the city in the 14th century, you can still pass through the old gates at certain points. One of my favorite things to do is walk over the bridges from side to side and enjoy the view.
The iconic Duomo of Florence with Brunelleschi’s dome can be seen from all parts of the city and is a landmark which leads you to the city center. I love that when wandering through the old streets you can catch glimpses of the dome from various angles, peeking through buildings and down alleyways.
You will most likely arrive to Florence via train to the majestic Santa Maria Novella Station. I have so many memories here of catching trains, saying hello and goodbye to friends, and departing to meet new ones. It’s also a great spot for people-watching.
Florence is filled with bicycles, as it’s one of the easier ways to navigate the heart of the historic city center. My preference is this vintage Fiat convertible. Rent one and go for a drive through the Tuscan countryside for a day trip or lunch.
Boboli Gardens – You could spend an entire day wandering the beautiful Boboli Gardens just south of the river in Oltrarno. These gorgeous gardens wind behind the Pitti Palace and feature statues, grottoes and garden temples throughout. Ticket purchase also includes entry to the porcelain, silver & costume museums, which are worth a visit.
Duomo – When you think of Florence, you probably envision the beautiful dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiori or the Duomo as many call it. It is the symbol of the city and can be seen at the end of streets peeking out above the buildings. The gothic architecture also features the beautiful dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, architect and one of the founding fathers of the Italian Renaissance movement. I highly recommend waiting in line to enter the sanctuary. You should also climb the dome and enjoy a 360 degree view of the entire city, it is breathtaking!
Santa Croce Basilica – I’m a sucker for going into every single church in Italy and I can’t possibly suggest them all, but besides the Duomo the Basilica di Santa Croce is another must-see in Florence. The church sits on a grand piazza and is the principal Franciscan church in the city. Many great Italians are buried here such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli and you can see numerous carved gravestones in the flooring of the sanctuary.
Ferragamo Museum – Fashionistas will love the Ferragamo Museum, a great place to learn about Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. The museum houses a stunning collection of shoes and clothing as well as films and historic press materials.
Via de’ Tornabuoni – If you need some retail therapy or just want to do a little window shopping after visiting the Ferragamo Museum head to the Via d’ Tornabuoni. Here you can shop iconic Italian fashion brands such as Gucci, Versace and Roberto Cavalli. This is a great place to spot the beautifully dressed Florentine’s, who are typically very stylish. If you only buy one thing in Florence, make it leather. After traveling all over Italy, Florence by far has the largest amount of artisan leather. So be sure to stop by a leather shop to get your hands on a purse, bag, shoes, belts and gloves. You can even get a pair of custom shoes or boots made to fit your feet, now that’s luxury!
Palazzo Pitti – Originally owned by Luca Pitti, an Italian banker, the Pitti Palace is located across the river and is the jewel of the Oltrarno neighborhood. The palace was later purchased by the powerful Medici family in 1549. The building now houses multiple museums and features work by Raphael, Titian and Tintoretto.
Mercato del Porcellino – One of my go-to locations for shopping in Florence is the Mercato del Porcellino. It was built by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1547 as a market for fabrics & jewelry. The market today still offers goods from local craftsmen such as leather, paper goods, small gifts, accessories and jewelry. Not to be missed is the bronze statue of a wild boar on the south side of the market. Originally a fountain, legend has it that if you rub the boar’s nose you’ll have good luck!
Ponte Vecchio – The iconic Ponte Vecchio Bridge is the most popular, and spans the Arno River in Florence. The bridge currently houses tiny, specialty jewelry shops. Each shop is a little jewelry box, and are works of art by themselves with antique display cases and carved wooden doors. It’s the best place to shop for jewelry in Florence and many of the vendors families have had shops here for years. Typically crowded with tourists and street performers, I prefer viewing the bridge from the neighboring Ponte Santa Trinita to the west.
Oltrarno – My absolute favorite neighborhood in Florence is the Oltrarno, which is located on the south side of the Arno River. It’s full of charm, restaurants and shops as well as the famous Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. I suggest strolling across the Ponte Vecchio and heading over to my next spot…Piazzale Michelangelo for aperitivo and a sunset view of the entire city!
Piazzale Michelangelo – Another spot for great views, especially at sunset, climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo for an evening aperitivo. You can reach the piazza by bus or foot from Piazza Poggi at the base of the hill near the Arno River. Originally meant to be a museum on the hill, the building at the top was converted into a restaurant with one of the best views of the city. Ristorante La Loggia is such a romantic place to enjoy the sunset with your love.
Besides leather goods, food is my second favorite part of this city. Tuscany is widely known for having fresh, local and artisanal ingredients in all of it’s dishes. So whether you’re going traditional with bistecca alla fiorentina or trying a more modern dish, you’ll know that everything is going to be amazing! Here are my top picks for places to eat and drink in the city.
Caffè Gilli – When traveling to Florence (or really anywhere in bella Italia) you absolutely must sit in a cafe and enjoy your morning coffee and croissant. Not many cafe’s traditionally offer places to sit down, so when you find a beautiful space such as Caffè Gilli, you definitely want to take a seat and enjoy. The building is so beautiful and located on the Piazza della Repubblica. In warmer months you can sit outside on the patio and enjoy your coffee. During the winter months go inside of this gorgeous space and be sure to order a cappuccino and brioche di cioccolato (croissant filled with nutella).
Gusta Pizza – Rumored to be the best pizza outside of Naples, Gusta Pizza is a popular choice for lunch or dinner in Florence. Located in Oltrarno near Basilica Santo Spirito, it’s open for lunch and dinner with a break in between. I’ve walked by when they are getting ready to open for dinner and there’s always a line formed around the corner. There are only a few tables so there is usually a wait or you can get carry-out. This spot is perfect for honeymooners because it is quaint, you can watch the pizzas being made in the wood-fire oven and they even have heart-shaped pizzas! That’s amore!
Mercato Centrale – The Mercato Centrale is a foodie’s dream. My first trip here I was drooling in awe of all the offerings. Everywhere I looked there was food! Fresh pasta, fresh meats and fish, produce overflowing from their containers, flowers, olive oil and cheeses. It’s a feast for the eyes and for the senses. The market features meat, fish, cheese and pasta stands as well as restaurants serving different types of meals for lunch. You can find amazingly fresh panini’s here as well as pre-made pasta, fried seafood and more prepared dishes which you can eat there or take out. The market has also been expanded in recent years to include a second level and is now open from 10am until midnight, so it’s a must-visit location any time of day for a delicious meal.
Zeb – Eating at Zeb was one of the highlights of all of my eating experiences in Florence. It’s a bar-centered restaurant where you can watch the two chefs cook all the meals. There are only these two employees at the restaurant and they serve as the chefs, the waitstaff and the cashier. The restaurant is very small and only takes a small number of reservations per evening. They have a set menu that rotates nightly and features fresh, local specialties that are in-season. I highly recommend making reservations at Zeb as they fill up fast.
Trattoria 4 Leoni – If you’re looking for traditional tuscan pasta, Trattoria 4 Leoni is your place. Featuring freshly made pasta in a variety of sauces you can’t get just one. Get a few and share. My favorite was the pear-stuffed agnolotti, YUM!
Gelateria Santa Trinita – I’m not sure if it’s the gelato or the ambiance that makes Gelateria Santa Trinita my favorite in Florence. In an old palace across the river in Oltrarno the gelateria also sells handmade chocolates, balsamic vinegar and biscotti. The gelateria is right across from the Ponte Santa Trinita. I always enjoy getting my gelato then walking across the bridge and taking in the river and views of the city at dusk or after dinner. It’s just gorgeous.
Hotel Continentale – The most romantic and awe-inspiring location in all of Florence is probably the rooftop bar of the Hotel Continentale. Located near the Ponte Vecchio, this hotel rooftop is the perfect location for an aperitivo with a 360 degree view of Florence including the Arno River. It’s gorgeous at sunset and just lovely in the warmer months. My favorite cocktail here is the Aperol Spritz!
WHERE TO STAY
Four Seasons Florence – If you’re looking for pure luxury, The Four Seasons in Florence is where you want to be! It is over the top gorgeous with every amenity you can imagine. The hotel also has special honeymoon suites and packages for honeymooners.
Hotel Continentale – Not only great for it’s rooftop bar, the Hotel Continentale also features luxurious guestrooms and a spa.
Boscolo Astoria Firenze – Located in the historic heart of Florence next to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Hotel Boscolo is a 4 star hotel with beautiful rooms, a restaurant, bar and lounge. The historic buildings were built in the Florentine Baroque Style and makes you feel like you’re staying in a palace fit for royalty. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re staying in a palace on their honeymoon?
AirBNB – If you want an authentic experience, try renting a flat through AirBNB in Florence. It is really nice for an extended stay because you can have your own kitchen and cook at home. Most of the apartments buildings are historic and have a charm that some of the hotels lack. You also get a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals and experience the city in a different light. I suggest staying across the river in Oltrarno, it’s my favorite part of the city.
Fiesole is a small commune located just five miles north of the historic city center of Florence. It is a quick trip and features The Roman Baths, Teatro Romano e Museo Civico Roman Theater, Basilica San Miniato al Monte The Bishop’s Palace and countless other churches and palaces to tour.
Lucca is located two hours west of Florence by train, and was founded by the Etruscans. The city is famous for the Renaissance walls surrounding the city. Sights not to be missed include; the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (the site of the ancient Roman forum), Ducal Palace, Torre delle Ore The Clock Tower and the Casa di Puccini, home of the famous opera composer.
Siena is a medieval hamlet located an hour and a half south of Florence. You can reach the city by train or bus, and then will need to take a series of elevators up to the top to enter the city. Siena is a traditional, medieval city surrounded by walls and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The center of the city features the Piazza del Campo where the famous Palio di Siena horse race takes place twice a year.
(The beautiful Duomo di Siena famous for it’s intricately detailed marble floors)
The best way to end your day in Florence is with a passeggiata (evening stroll) throughout the city. Roam and get lost in the maze of medieval streets and alleys, stop for gelato, visit the shops which are bustling at this time before settling into a quiet little trattoria for dinner. My recommendation when in Florence is the ‘bistecca alla fiorentina’ or Florentine Steak. It’s a classic here and best enjoyed with a smooth red wine.
All words and images by Melissa Schollaert
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